Social cognition, socioeconomic status, and career aspirations

Year: 2016

Author: Berger, Nathan, Holmes, Kathryn, Gore, Jennifer, Archer, Jennifer

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Since 2009, Australian governments and educational institutions have focused on enabling access to university for students from historically underrepresented groups, particularly those from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds. However, just 15% of students from the lowest SES quartile undertake degree-level education in Australia. Policymakers, educators, and researchers need a greater understanding of how career and education aspirations become differentiated by SES background during schooling. An emerging area of social psychological research seeks to explore how social identity styles differ according to social class background. This study draws on data from approximately 10,000 questionnaires gathered over four years by the Aspirations Longitudinal Study at the University of Newcastle. Students were sampled in an accelerated longitudinal design encompassing school Year 3 to Year 12 in New South Wales. The analysis looked at the role of students’ social-cognitive styles in making sense of self-relevant information about career aspirations. Results show that students with an information-oriented identity style gather and evaluate information regarding career and education aspirations, with the desire to differentiate themselves from other people. In contrast, students with a diffuse/avoidant identity style delay dealing with identity questions, and rely on other people to make career and education decisions. In the analysis, students’ identity styles were found to differ between SES backgrounds, with high SES students more information-oriented and less diffuse/avoidant when dealing with identity questions compared to low SES students. Identity styles also differed by SES backgrounds within high and low career aspirations groups, with high aspiring low SES students more information-oriented and less diffuse/avoidant than their low aspiring peers. An important implication of this study is that to improve access rates to university, there is a need for careers education to explore students’ desires and interests and to help them make informed decisions in line with their developing identity.